Doubt, Faith, and Certainty

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Anthony C. Thiselton
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , March
     2017.
     168 pages.
     $20.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780802873538.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Anthony C. Thiselton’s Doubt, Faith & Certainty explores the topics of doubt, faith, and certainty that potentially “causes endless anxiety and heart searching” (vii). These themes all have a significant, necessary, and productive role in everyday life, regardless of theological beliefs or orientation. As such, Thiselton argues that the environment where doubt, faith, and certainty are experienced determines the definition and understanding of such ideas and feelings, since such moods lack precise definitions, a constant sense, or unchanging function in life. Although Thiselton hoped to reach a wider audience, the subject under consideration is complex with a long history and thus, appeals to the fields of philosophical thought and ancient languages. Therefore, the book utilizes several Greek, Hebrew, and Latin words and phrases along with philosophical ideas to convey its argument. Although some clarification and explanations are provided, readers unfamiliar with such disciplines will find the book difficult to follow.

Thiselton argues that an extreme view that all doubt, faith, and certainty are negative, wrong, or a sign of weakness is unnecessary. Moreover, extreme contrary positions are also unnecessary and equally unfavorable. Such extreme positions are to be avoided; for example, doubting everything can cause anxiety, procrastination, and lack of commitment, while conversely, doubt can have a positive implication, in that doubt is “the beginning of self-criticism, correction, and discovery” (2). Thiselton underscores his argument by presenting how—depending upon context—various Hebrew and Greek words for doubt or faith take on different interpretations. The caveat here is that in Thiselton’s view or interpretation is open to the definition that one’s context provides.

He explains that doubt is interconnected with faith and not an opposite, vying view. Thiselton cites Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to reassure the reader that faith requires the presence of uncertainty. Through philosophical and theological lenses, Thiselton’s certainty is explained as that which is “experienced in faith, not by sight” (142).

This book examines and contributes to the challenging discussion of doubt, faith, and certainty by providing a historical background and challenge to the broader understanding of such terms. Doubt, faith, and certainty possess inherited vagueness which the book under review examines through theological, philosophical, psychological, and moral lenses. Thiselton employs various primary and secondary readings that appeal to early, middle, and late theologians as well as biblical scholars and philosophers to underscore his arguments. He argues that doubt has a necessary and, at times, productive role in everyday life, where doubt makes room for faith and “does not depend on emotions or feelings” (91). Faith, potentially, contains various meanings as well. However, faith is ultimately a gift from God. Certainty can only be experienced in that God-given faith, since certainty is only truly fulfilled in God’s planned, ultimate, and future redemption.

Thiselton’s research teases out of some of the nuances that such terms inherently possess. Doubt, faith, and certainty are human conditions that are impervious to social, economic, cultural, or political privilege. In other words, regardless of conditions, every person will experience such feelings and emotions in various degrees throughout their lives, and it is in that societal and individual context that the definition and application of doubt, faith, and certainty need to be worked out. This book provides a refreshing and challenging perspective on doubt, faith, and certainty; it is recommended for scholarly reading or laypeople under the instruction and guidance of an educator.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Alvaro Tejada is a doctoral student in Christian theology at Regent University.

Date of Review: 
August 9, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anthony C. Thiselton is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England. His many other books include A Shorter Guide to the Holy SpiritSystematic Theology, and Life after Death: A New Approach to the Last Things.

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